Pros: Fascinating topic for an anthology, with some wonderful approaches to it
Cons: Some rather talky stories; a handful of repeated topics, themes, or approaches
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group.
Intelligent Design, an anthology edited by Denise Little, tackles from a science fiction viewpoint the “complex mix of religion and science—intelligent design—a school of thought that believes that evolution occurred, but under God’s own eye and with His input.” (From Denise Little’s introduction.) This leads to a fascinating array of 11 stories that approach the topic from weird angles. What if humanity is an experiment, and it’s deemed a failure? How might the humble rat turn out to be all the proof we need that intelligent design is true? If humanity does fail as a species, what might follow it, and how might it end? What if creation is an academic science project?
When I was a kid (we’re talking 20-30 years ago here), I had two books that so fascinated me, I read them over and over again—something that doesn’t happen very often. They were books of, if I recall correctly, the “100 Best Fantasy Short-Short Stories” and its science fiction equivalent. Somewhere in there I read a story that has stuck with me over these multiple decades despite my horrible memory. In it, you follow along with a kindergartener’s week-long playtime project, and at the end of the story you realize that the young child is God and his project is Creation. I so loved that idea that I never forgot about it—and a couple of the stories in this anthology measure up closely to that one, in particular Laura Resnick’s contribution.
I think no matter your position on intelligent design, as long as you enjoy open-minded discussion you’ll find the stories in Intelligent Design to be interesting and worthwhile. They explore all sorts of aspects of the topic, and give the reader plenty to think about. A few of the stories are a bit on the end of science fiction in which stories are something of a transparent vehicle for discussion—i.e., instead of trying to convince us through an essay, the author explores a topic through character dialogue. This isn’t my favorite sort of story, but that’s a reader preference issue. One exception to this is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Year of the Rat, which is fascinating enough that I didn’t mind its dialogue-driven path. This is the wonderful tale in which a family of scientists is caught up by the notion that perhaps the lowly rat is the sole proof needed for intelligent design. Jean Rabe’s Int Des 101 is an example of this sort of story that I wasn’t quite as caught up in; in it, non-human primates rule the world, and we see their take on intelligent design through a college course on the same. I guess the primates were just too human, oddly, for me to take this story seriously.
Several of the stories explore what might succeed humanity as masters of the earth, including Brendan DuBois’ God, No Matter How You Spell It—a story of mankind’s end that might have been only average, but was turned into something special by a parallel story of a family’s pilgrimage. Sarah A. Hoyt’s take on the same plot, Created He Them, is more… visual, I guess, and a little more interesting. Whole areas of civilization are mysteriously returning to a pristine, natural state, and no one knows why; soon a family trying to evacuate from their city can’t help but notice the evidence that another species is poised to take their place. Bill McCay’s The Final Report on the Eden Project also fits in here, as mankind unknowingly faces its final test, with all too predictable results.
Like Year of the Rat, Jody Lynn Nye’s Made Manifest explores intelligent design through the idea that God has provided the answers to our needs in the world around us—this time by way of a special crystal that will solve the problems of an overloaded communications infrastructure. I found this story a little too predictable, but the ideas were interesting. Michael Hiebert’s The Signature of God tells the story of a woman in charge of helping to design nanobots for the Department of Defense based on the biology of the bombardier beetle. The results of her work, as well as the health problems of her father, reveal a pattern that forever changes her take on God.
Janny Wurts’s The Vaunting takes a rather unique approach to things, positing that certain parts of creation might be the result of a game of chance in which humans act as the champions of elemental powers—and human ingenuity plays a key part. Dean Wesley Smith’s Luck Be a Lady is one of my favorite stories from this anthology, an oddity in which gods have names like Stan and Laverne, the gods of gambling have a high spot in the universe, there are superheroes such as Poker Boy and Front Desk Girl, and the Bookkeeper decides to prove that Luck doesn’t really exist—with disastrous consequences.
Peter Orullian’s Guilt by Association was an odd story of a scientist trying to convince a pastor of the non-existence of God. It’s fascinating, but the scientist character comes across as a bit of a caricature, making it tough to totally buy into the situation.
By far, however, my favorite story in this volume is the closer, Laura Resnick’s Project: Creation. In it, we follow the creation of an entity named Schmidt, his introduction to his boss, Professor Yahweh, and his assignment to Lucifer’s staff as part of Creation. I don’t stand a chance of being able to convey how witty and fascinating this one is, so instead I’ll find you a good quote:
“It’s a pleasure to encounter you,” Professor Lucifer,” said Schmidt.
“No, no, I’m not a professor yet,” said Lucifer. “This is a post-doc gig for me.”
Yahweh added, “There is only one professor on Project: Creation.”
“And there will only ever be just one professor here, if he has his way,” Lucifer muttered to Schmidt.
Intelligent Design suffers from the usual anthology problem that you’re pretty much bound to find some stories less riveting than others in a collection like this. Some of the stories seemed too similar in topic or approach to me, and some were too dialogue-driven for my taste. But the standouts were truly standout, and this book is well worth reading!